Thanks to the sagacity of Al "Bud" Selig and the baseball owners, it is now more exciting to follow New York's expansion team, the New York Mets, than it is to follow the New York Yankees.
There is virtually no doubt that the New York Yankees will be in the playoffs. They currently lead the second place Boston Red Sox by one-half game and are likely to take the American League Wild Card if they fall beneath their division rivals.
Unlike the Atlanta Braves, the Mets have little chance of beating out the highly vulnerable Philadelphia Phillies for the Eastern Division title, but the Wild Card still gives the team a chance at playing in October.
Throughout the offseason, spring training, and the start of the regular season, the "experts" expected the Mets to battle the Washington Nationals for last place. Currently, the Mets are batting the Nationals for third place.
Similarly, very few "experts" thought that the Arizona Diamondbacks would contend for either the Western Division crown or even for the Wild Card, but much to everyone's surprise, the Diamondbacks trail the San Francisco Giants by a mere one-half game and are only one game back of the Braves for the Wild Card lead.
Forget the possibility that the Mets will trade the game's best shortstop in Jose Reyes, outfielder Carlos Beltran, or ace closer Frankie Rodriguez. It would cost the team in public relations if the Mets were contending near the end of July and traded these three key players.
It now appears that the Mets, Braves, Nationals, Diamondbacks, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers, Giants and Diamondbacks will battle for Wild Card and division titles all season long. And don't forget about the disappointing Cincinnati Reds and Colorado Rockies, or the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates.
One's first reaction might be that with so many teams contending for one playoff spot, how can one seriously consider the Mets? The answer is that 10 teams are within five and one-half games of the Wild Card-leading Braves. Mediocrity creates competition.
As mid-season approaches, it's anybody's game.
Thus, the National League Wild Card chase has created a situation in which the Mets are perhaps more exciting to follow than their cross-town rivals in the Bronx.
Last season, a similar situation existed between Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. The Yankees led the Rays by one and one-half games with 10 games left. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot was three. The Yankees and the Minnesota Twins were tied for the league's best record.
However, rather than maximize his team's chances of winning the division, manager Joe Girardi rested some of his stars, including members of the bullpen.
Girardi told the Associated Press (Girardi Ignores Criticism), "I will do everything to win the division without hurting our players."
General manager Brian Cashman supported Girardi, telling the AP that "There's a stigma that you don't want to be the wild card. We've been beaten by the wild-card Red Sox, we've been beaten by the wild-card Marlins. The most important thing is to get in, and then after that to get in and be at max health. Just want to be sure everybody's lined up."
Even if Girardi had used his regulars in attempt to win the division, the enthusiasm that normally accompanies a pennant race would have been lacking.
The Wild Card has created a situation in which the modern equivalent of a pennant race may not exist, but of greater significance is that a team may not maximize its efforts to win.
The Mets will probably be contending for the Wild Card throughout the 2011 season. It matters to Mets fans that they win it, but that's not the point. The point is that there will be great interest and fabulous excitement following the gutsy Mets.
Unless something catastrophic occurs, such as injuries to key players on either the Yankees or Red Sox, it is almost a fact as of today, June 26, that both teams will be in the playoffs. Obviously, that's all the Yankees want.